US recalls ambassador to Zambia after gay rights row

Daniel Foote, US ambassador to Zambia Image copyright United States Department of State
Image caption Daniel Foote was critical of the Zambian government

The US has recalled its ambassador to Zambia amid a diplomatic row after he criticised the imprisonment of a gay couple, embassy sources have said.

Last month, Daniel Foote said he was “horrified” that a judge had sentenced the men to 15 years in prison after they were caught having sex in 2017.

The government accused him of trying to dictate policy, and President Edgar Lungu declared him persona non grata.

Zambia is a deeply conservative society where homosexual acts are illegal.

“You cannot ask a government to make a decision at gun point – ‘because we are giving you aid, we want you to do this’ – you can’t,” Zambia’s Foreign Minister Joseph Malanji told the BBC at the time.

Last month, a High Court in the capital, Lusaka, sentenced Japhet Chataba and Steven Samba to 15 years in jail.

The couple had booked into a lodge, and a worker peeped through an open window and saw them having sex, the court heard.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Zambian President Edgar Lungu had asked the US ambassador to leave his post

In a statement earlier this month, Mr Foote said he was merely expressing “my belief about a law and a harsh sentencing I don’t agree with”.

He warned of a “decaying relationship” between the two nations, and said the Zambian government wanted diplomats “with open pocketbooks and closed mouths”.

Mr Foote said millions of dollars of donor aid had been misappropriated, but there had been no “assertive corruption prosecutions”.

Zambia is one of the largest per-capita recipients of US aid, getting about $500m (£390m) annually.

US embassy sources confirmed to new agencies and local media that Mr Foote had been recalled by Washington.

“[President] Lungu said he does not want to work with the man [Mr Foote] and so there was no point in him remaining here,” an unnamed source told AFP.

“Remember that there are issues of security and so Washington want their man back. We do not expect a replacement soon.”

Mr Foote served as Zambia’s ambassador since December 2017.

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